There are multiple artists that go by Karelia.
1. Karelia is a French dark symphonic power metal band created in 2000 by Lionel Vest (sound mastering) and Matthieu Kleiber (singer). They've released 3 albums so far: Usual Tragedy (2003), Raise (2005), and Restless (2008).
2. A 1970's Finnish psych-folk group headed by Paroni Paakkunainen and jazz guru Edward Vesala with Esa Kotilainen and Matti Kontio
3. The Karelia was also a jazz/blues band, headed by the current lead singer and guitarist of Franz Ferdinand, Alex Kapranos.
About the French power metal band:
It's certainly appropriate to generally refer to Karelia's opulent music as symphonic metal. Next to driving drum parts, progressive rhythms and hard-as-nails guitar riffs, there are anthemic choir parts, hovering string arrangements and numerous cross references to the time of the great classical composers. Mind you, the world of this French band extends way beyond mere sequences of notes: Karelia create sonic images, atmospheres, haunting moods.
The fascination of their material relies on its effect of depth. Karelia's compositions are multi-layered, multi-dimensional, away from clichés or genre-typical settings, yet accessible and catchy at the same time. Raise, the second album by the quintet, demonstrates impressively how melodies, tough sounds and demanding lyrical standards can be brought into line. Karelia don't play half-hearted background muzak. You have to listen carefully to their music, feel it, take it in with all your senses. If you take that time, you'll be rewarded by the adventure of a fascinating sonic journey that begins with the first note and refuses to let go of its listeners before the final chord ends. Can you think of any other contemporary metal offering that lives up to this description?
"Raise" is the second recording by the band from Alsace. Early 2004 saw the arrival of their debut, Usual Tragedy, which caused quite a stir among the music press. Journalists were impressed by the group's imposing arrangements and technical skills. Reason enough for Karelia to approach the recordings of Raise with even more ambition and maturity. "Compared to our first album, we've changed some minor stylistic aspects", says Matthieu Kleiber, vocalist, founder and main composer. "The vocals in particular are more unambiguous and easier to pin down this time around. We've concentrated more on mid-tempo numbers, consciously making the album less monotonous by including only a few fast double bass numbers." A wise decision, seeing that the eleven tracks on Raise sound even more versatile and dynamic than their debut, Usual Tragedy.
In line with their ambitioned music, Karelia have proved themselves as intelligent and sensitive contemporary musicians with their lyrics. Their talent for observation is sharp and critical, their historic understanding pronounced. The title track is an intense exploration of the turmoil of World War II. "That war still is inexplicable to me," says Kleiber. "We live only a few kilometres away from the German border. Germany and France are good friends. It's impossible to imagine that only sixty years ago there was a bloody war raging between these two countries." A cold shiver runs down the listener's spine when excerpts from a Hitler speech reverberate on 'Raise'. Karelia have turned music into a breathtaking excursion into the past.
But Karelia are well-versed not only when it comes to the past. They also focus on the madness of countries currently involved in wars – 'Cross & Crescent' doesn't kick off with oriental sounds for no reason, it's a symbol for the culture clash the way it presents itself in the Middle East at the moment. Kleiber: "The worst thing for me is the uncertainty which information to trust. Isn't everything we get to hear in Europe propaganda?"
Remains the question of the Pink Floyd cover. 'High Hopes', that Floyd classic off the The Division Bell album comes along in a tougher, more metallic outfit, courtesy of Karelia, while it continues to spread a similar intensity as the original. For Matthieu Kleiber, it's a question of honour to interpret the original, but not to disfigure it. "We're all big Pink Floyd fans," he confesses. "That's what we would like to document with 'High Hopes'. Of course, it could have been any other song. 'Comfortably Numb' was also on my wish list."
Karelia was founded five years ago by Matthieu Kleiber and keyboarder Lionel Vest, who has gone on to concentrate on other classical projects but is always delighted to help out with orchestral arrangements at the studio. Following the release of their self-produced demo and shows with acts like Kamelot, At Vance, Vanden Plas and Dyslesia, Karelia signed with Drakkar and released their debut, Usual Tragedy, in spring 2004. Next to Kleiber, the current line-up consists of Bertrand Maillot (keyboards), Erwan Morice (guitar), Loïc Jenn (drums) and Gilles Thiebaut (bass). A line-up that is looking forward to a great future, if the awesome Raise is anything to go by. So let's join Karelia on their fascinating sonic journey!